Friday, March 23, 2012

Child Soldiers


The recent interest in Kony and the conviction of Thomas Lubanga have brought the issue of child soldiers to the public consciousness, where it should have been for a long time.  There was also a recent discussion of the indoctrination in the Hitler Youth on one Holocaust site.  I remember an Iranian friend telling me about children being sent into mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war because they were seen as expendable.  Clearly children are easier to indoctrinate than adults, which is why many groups have chosen to use them.  They don't ask as many questions, but just do what they are told. 

Several years ago, I interviewed a woman who had worked educating former child soldiers, who often had been denied basic education but simply taught to kill before they could distinguish right from wrong.  She commented on how difficult it was to work with them, because they lacked such basic concepts and had essentially no formal education. 

All of these cases show that children were used because of their trust, yet in all cases, the trust was clearly misplaced.  Most regarded even the children fighting on their own side as expendable, showing little regard for their lives or future.

A recent opinion piece in the LATimes comments on this:
Child soldiers: A worldwide scourge

I think about my uncle who lied about his age to join the Polish Army under General Anders and fought at Monte Cassino when he was only 15 or 16.  He was one of many boys who did this.  He knew that his country was being devastated by the Germans, and had himself been imprisoned and deported by the Soviets after they invaded eastern Poland in 1939, shortly after the German invasion from the west.  He felt that it was his duty to help free his country. His father had died during the time in exile, so he was alone with his mother, and she was frail.  All his other family and nearly everyone from their village was to die during the war.  

I think of my mother's cousin who at age 16 helped to steal a V2 rocket and deliver it to the British.  In this way, the British learned how to disarm the V2s that didn't explode on impact.  But this cost the lives of nearly everyone from my grandfather's family, leaving only his niece to tell the story.

I also think about the children who fought with the resistance, even meriting a statue in Warsaw of a child soldier. This is shown the photo above.

My uncle, my mother's cousin and some of the other children who fought in the resistance did so by choice.  At least, that is how they told it years later.  And I view their actions as heroic.  But they were teens who were forced to grow up too soon by the war and occupations that engulfed their country for several years before they became combatants.

Nevertheless, I think that there is far too much violence in the world.  Enlisting children to fight wars is something that needs to stop.  Perhaps if old men were forced to fight wars they would not choose to go to war so easily.


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